Electric vehicles, or EVs, are fast becoming the norm in South Africa for both good and bad reasons. The novelty perhaps of driving an EV and the rapid acceleration, plus the inherent quietness, are factors that impress the most for many coming from an international combination engine vehicle.
Are you serious?
In the case of Enviro Automotive’s DFSK EC35 panel van, very little of the mentioned traits apply as it doesn’t represent what many will view as a good crack at an EV.
In fact, it could even be seen as a joke, not just for being an electric van, but also for not exactly having rapid EV performance or being at the forefront of plugged-in vehicle tech itself.
However, the other side of the coin is that this van wasn’t designed to provide earth shattering performance or an abundance of creature comfort.
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No. Zero emissions in an urban environment with just enough range were key considerations, along with an acceptable payload and the bare minimum of features.
It is, therefore, not an aesthetic triumph or the ultimate in EV speed, but instead a clever take on a segment that is fast letting go of its reliance on diesel in Europe for electricity.
What is it?
But what of the vehicle itself? For starters, the EC35 is modelled on the C-Series range of small vans and bakkies co-developed by Chinese marques Dongfeng Motors and the Sokon Industrial Group.
On sale in a variety of configurations in China since 2009, it is in fact the replacement for the K-Series that sold in fair numbers in South Africa as DFSK were one of the early Chinese brands to arrive on local soil, before quietly departing in the late 2010s.
Unlike the K-Series, which attracted attention, and not in a good way, for its BMW-aping kidney grille and laughable dimensions, the EC35 is more substantial and not as mini with styling “borrowed” from the updated third generation Ford Transit.
Measuring just over 4.5 metres in overall length, it offers a cargo area of 2 530 mm x 1 440 mm x 1 270 mm, a claimed payload of 1 015 kg, dual sliding side doors, a loading space of 4.8m³ and an upwards opening tailgate that requires a good helping of muscle to open and close.
While very much a match for some double cab bakkies on the cargo front, together with the promised safety of having the load in question stored out of sight, the main drawing card is the electric propulsion module.
Eschewing the 1.2,1.4 and 1.5-litre internal combustion engines offered in China, the EC35 makes use of a 38.7-kWh lithium-ion battery that sends 60kW/200Nm to the rear wheels through a single-speed rotary dial transmission.
According to Enviro Automotive, the claimed range is 270 km and while seemingly poor by modern EV standards, more than acceptable for what will be used on a daily in urban and city environments.
What’s more, the importer has availed the EC35 with three methods of charging; a conventional household charger, an AC charger and the DC fast charger that makes the van eligible to be charged at the 60 kW+ GridCars charging station.
Using the latter during the EC35’s weeklong stay required just over 58 minutes to charge from 22% to 100% in a process that saw 33.96-kWh being inserted back into the battery.
Given the charging price of R5.88 per kWh at the station located at Fourways Mall, the entire “filling price” came to R199.68. Incidentally, a wait of 30 minutes saw the battery display on the instrument cluster register a capacity of 50%.
As the display doesn’t provide an exact expectancy range in kilometres but rather in percentage, the theoretical distance drivers can expect on a single car errs on around the 200 km mark as a total of 194 km had been clocked before the visit to the plug.
Based on driving style though, and this writer not wanting to push the envelope by ending up with less than 10%, chances are that the EC35 would have easily gone 200 km or even more.
Commercial vehicle in every sense
That being said, it wouldn’t be the most pleasant as the electric motor emits a painful whirring sounds the moment the rev counter drops below 2 000 rpm, compounded by a noise similar to a hospital ventilator preceding it.
Similar in feel to a light truck as per the driving position, the DFSK EC35’s creature comforts include power steering, air-conditioning, a touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB, electric windows, rear parking sensors, a reverse camera and imitation brushed alloy inserts around the window switches.
While very much the minimum and even luxurious for a commercial vehicle of this kind, the biggest worry is safety as only one airbag is provided for the driver, while the brakes feel anything but ABS equipped.
As well as being noisy and bouncy, the latter not surprising without a load, the EC35 isn’t really suited for highway driving as the top speed is limited to 100 km/h due to it being a commercial vehicle.
What’s more, the starting procedure of using a key rather than a traditional EV button and turning it twice without any sound present, will take some getting use to.
On top of it, the interior isn’t going to win awards for quality or innovation, with the same applying to sound of the audio system and the heavy feel of the electric power steering. But, as mentioned, the EC35 is a workhorse and not an alternative to a similar-size MPV or bakkie.
Nonetheless, it is still somewhat of a contentious vehicle most businesses will approach with apprehension given what many still view as the ridiculousness of offering an electric vehicle in South Africa “when there is no electricity or load shedding”.
With a change of mindset, similar to charging one’s smartphone before it goes flat, the DFSK EC35 works a treat from not only a financial standpoint as it won’t ever have to use petrol or diesel, but also maintenance and the fact that no emissions tax applies.
That being said, the mind shift will still be big one and with a few issues to sort out, won’t came too naturally to most businesses.
Yet, with EV vans starting to become more prevalent overseas, Enviro Automotive could well have initiated a switch South African will soon flip rather than never.